One of the most common debates among us at Hustle Belt and MAC fans alike is "what is the MAC's best rivalry?" We did a power ranking (did you know we like power rankings?) of the rivalries back in August and had a roundtable discussion of the best rivalry back in October. The general consensus tends to point to Bowling Green and Toledo as the best rivalary in the MAC. It's hard to argue with that ranking based on the longevity and history of the two programs, but one of the fiercest rivalries of late has been between two teams that were not on either list. In fact, Akron's rival throughout the years in all sports has traditionally been Kent State due to the proximity and history of the two schools. When it comes to basketball and recent history however, Kent State does not compare to Akron's rivalry with Ohio.
Akron and Ohio have established themselves as the top tier of MAC basketball over the past five seasons with no other MAC team taking the championship since Kent State in 2008. The two teams went head-to-head in the MAC championship for the second straight time in 2013 and for the third time in five years. Akron and Ohio established themselves as the top two teams in the conference early last season and seemed to be on a collision course for another MAC championship. Akron won the first match-up of the season comfortably at home, but the rivalry really started to heat up heading into the second match-up in Athens. There was some player-player, player-fan, and fan-fan twitter beef throughout the week that intensified heading into the game. The second match-up lived up to the hype in what was certainly the game of the year in the MAC with Akron toppling the Bobcats in Athens.
After sweeping the season series with their new rival, Akron seemed well on their way to another MAC championship. Once the shocking news of Alex Abreu's suspension came followed by Akron losing two of their final three games, the Ohio Bobcats now looked like MAC favorites. As destiny would have it, the two teams met again the MAC championship in an anti-climatic final with the Zips defeating the Bobcats by 19
The names may have changed this year with DJ Cooper, Reggie Keely, Zeke Marshall, Brian Walsh and more graduating. And the two teams may not be considered the best in the MAC at this time, but it is still easy to get excited for this rivalry to renew on Sunday. I expect another close game between the teams in what may again be a MAC championship final preview if the recent years' trend continues.